Worried about friend's addiction to drugs? This app may help

The app provides the user with possible text messages and dialogues for conveying their concerns to their friend. Image courtesy: IANS

New York: Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are developing a new smartphone app that may help teach young adults how to talk to a peer if they are concerned about that person's drinking or drug use.

The app named "Harbor" prompts the user to answer several questions about their friend's substance use behaviour and provides feedback on the potential seriousness -- a feature that may be especially helpful to people who feel conflicted about intervening.

Designed for people aged between 18-29, Harbor teaches young adults how they can "act as first responders for their close friends who demonstrate risky substance use behaviours," according to the app's lead developer Douglas C. Smith from the varsity.

For the study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the team conducted an online survey of more than 450 young adults.

The survey revealed that 45 per cent of the respondents indicated that they were concerned about a close friend's drug or alcohol use.

Harbor provides the app user with possible text messages and dialogues for conveying their concerns to their friend.

The researcher said a challenge for the team was writing messages that could be applied in differing situations without being overly generic and that also sounded conversational and reflected young people's speech patterns.

"Ultimately, you're trying to communicate a message while encouraging them to adopt some of these practices and empowering them to put it in their own words when they talk with their friend," Smith said.

When young adults in the study reviewed the sample scripts and messages, "more than 95 per cent of them indicated the scripts would be useful in talking with their friends about their substance use," the researcher said.

"And about 98 per cent of respondents rated the script dialogues as realistic. If young adults felt the language in the scripts was inauthentic, I think it's safe to assume they would be less likely to use the app," the researcher added.

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